In the beginning there was promise.
An atmosphere that felt decidedly like a cavernous wine cellar where covert whispers and raucous laughter are both equally acceptable. A patio that felt decidedly like… a patio. A friendly chap of a waiter who was all too happy to bring me samples of nearly every white wine on the by-the-glass menu until I found one I actually liked (the Chablis Chardonnay).
The cool vibe in Vinoteque, a relatively new addition to the hip section of Melrose Avenue, seemed to assure that my group of snarky gal pals would have a fabulous time. In my experience, wine bars are inherently fun – especially wine bars that serve food beyond the usual nibbles of olives and cheese plates and bacon-wrapped dates. Where wine flows, appetites rage.
Or at least mine does.
At Vinoteque, there are at least a couple dozen “European-sized” small plates to order from the eclectic menu – salads and pasta and ubiquities like short ribs and salmon to temper wine-infused hunger. There are Little Neck clams bursting with a bright bite of cilantro ($10), a vibrant wild arugula salad with preserved lemon vinaigrette and grated parmesan ($9), a relatively bland risotto with a swirl of white truffle oil ($9), and gamey lamb meatballs stuffed with goat cheese that are sadly not enhanced by the addition of mint ($13).
There is no shortage of solid and less-than-solid plates to share with dining and drinking companions. One could leave perfectly full and satisfied from the heartier dishes like the frissée salad with lardons and a panko fried egg ($9) or the duck breast with slow roasted butternut squash ($17). Yet even with the plentiful offerings and charming ambiance, something is amiss at Vinoteque.
It’s not the square white plates that S. Irene Virbila of the LA Times finds pretentious.
It’s not the confusing wine policy that allows diners to open up any bottle of wine in the restaurant if they commit to buying two glasses before donating it to the “communal table” for other imbibers to enjoy by the glass if they so desire.
And it’s not the aforementioned lamb meatballs that couldn’t be finished between a table of four Eaters. (Or more accurately two Eaters since one doesn’t eat lamb and the other is vegan.)
The problem is one of a rather precarious nature -- there is no bread.
Sure, a paltry crostini that accompanies the charcuterie plates, but no meaty hunks of whole wheat or sourdough boules (ideally from La Brea Bakery) that demand one sink their teeth into it immediately upon receipt.
As such, our party of four could only stay long enough to cancel our order of sautéed pea tendrils. The bottle of La Tordera Prosecco di Valdobbiadene ($34) we shared (I opted against any of the by-the-glass selections) demanded to be nullified with the sinewy texture of the preeminent carbohydrate.
So we left the cavernous wine cellar where we’d laughed and whispered with equal aplomb. We strode through the patio that is… a patio. And we traversed the stretch of sidewalk toward Eric Greenspan’s the Foundry.
Despite the promise of good things at Vinoteque, bread was calling, and we had no choice but to answer.
7469 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046